Over my canine rehab career, I have seen a number of young dogs that presented for treatment due to a kyphotic (roached) posture. The dogs were primarily show dogs, and the owners had noted a change in their topline between the time that they were under a year of age, up to the age of three.
What was interesting in each case was that at the apex of the kyphosis, there was no reactivity of the adjacent epaxial muscles. As well, while the kyphotic region was stiff with dorsoventral pressures, there were no hypomobilities detectable with lateral pressures, and no pain with either of these tests. Occasionally, I could get an auto-manipulation with the dorsoventral pressures, but it didn’t seem to make a significant improvement with the kyphotic posture. While there was stiffness with manual testing, there was also a rubbery end feel… It felt like the vertebra was bouncing back at me with each pressure. The ‘feel’ simply didn’t make sense! I have come to note throughout my career (with both people and dogs) that when I detected a ‘rubbery’ sensation to manual testing of one particular portion of the spine, that the root of the problem is actually distal to that site.
In all of the young dog kyphosis cases, I was able to find a sacroiliac joint, or lumbar spine dysfunction… that, when corrected, improved the topline (but not fully). So, treatment involved manual therapy (mobilizations) to the sacroiliac joint or lumbar spine, and the kyphotic region (the thoraco-lumbar or mid to caudal thoracic spine). However, my thoughts have always been that part of the issue is that the dog ‘grew’ into the kyphotic posture. There was back or pelvis pain, that led to the posture, and the dog maintained that posture through a growth spurt, which led to tight and shorted ventral spinal muscles and ligaments, and elongated dorsal muscles and ligaments. Therefore in order to successfully eradicate this condition, the soft tissues need to be progressively stretched, which cannot be done quickly. It requires postural retraining and a series of manual therapy appointments.
My favourite postural retraining exercise involves standing the dog on two cinderblocks – slowly increasing the distance between the front feet and back feet, and holding this position for several minutes per session. Owners need to be doing this at home. They might also incorporate other exercises that facilitate extension of the spine: up hill walking, crawling under an object, prolonged standing with front feet up on a stair step or a stool. The manual therapy will involve sustained holds of dorsoventral pressures – again with the goal to stretch out the ventral soft tissues. It is doubtful that modalities, massage, or underwater treadmill would be useful in these cases.
From what I have seen with these cases, it has provoked me to suggest to the breeders and owners of show dogs to bring their dogs in for routine check ups to look for and treat minor axial skeleton issues.
Until next time! Happy rehabbing!